Hello, hello! I’d asked if you had questions about trans people and the trans experience, and y’all asked all the questions! (Not that I’m complaining!) It’s wonderful to see people trying to understand the trans experience better and be willing to dispel the misconceptions they have. As an exception, this week, I’m going to answer 3 questions. So, we’re going to dive right in to them:
Q1: What is the difference between a transgender person and an intersex person? 2) What exactly is an intersex person?
When people have XX chromosomes, ovaries, and a vagina, they are usually assigned female at birth. When people are born with XY chromosomes, testicular tissue, and a penis, they are usually assigned male at birth. Some people are born with ambiguous sex characteristics (hormones, genitalia, organs, etc). These people are intersex. Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans, and it isn’t a medical problem. It’s also more common than most people realize. In fact, according to planned parenthood, being “It’s hard to know exactly how many people are intersex, but estimates suggest that about 1 in 100 people born in the U.S. is intersex”.
There are many variations within being intersex as well. Some intersex people are born with ambiguous (intersex) genitalia and organs (ovarian/testicular tissue). Others are born with chromosomes that are a combination of XX and XY. And some are born with one set of external genitalia, but their organs or hormones released at puberty don’t match, like someone born with a penis who doesn’t produce enough testosterone at puberty. So, they might not know they’re intersex till they hit puberty. Finally, some intersex people might never discover that they are intersex because the deviation from typical male/female-assigned sex characteristics might not be prominent enough. You can read more about it here.
So, intersex people are those with ambiguous sex characteristics. What about trans people? Trans is an umbrella term for those people who don’t identify the gender they were assigned at birth (male or female). This includes binary trans people (trans men and trans women) as well as non-binary trans people. So the difference is that intersex is a biological state defined by ambiguous sex characteristics, and being trans is an identity which is differs from what was assigned at birth.
Q2: I don’t mean to be rude but I’ve always had this on my mind and never known whom to ask. Do trans women have male genitals? And vice versa? If yes, are they born that way? With male-like appearance and female reproductive organs?
Trans is an umbrella term that covers anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. There are binary trans people (trans women and trans men), and there are non-binary trans people (genderqueer people, agender people, etc). And in both cases, their genitalia is none of your business. I understand that you don’t mean to be rude, but trans people have a right to their privacy, just like everyone else, and don’t deserve people staring down their pants trying to figure out what genitalia they have.
Another point to note is that genitalia/reproductive organs are not inherently male or female. It is more inclusive of trans people to move away from the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative and refer genitalia and reproductive organs with their names (i.e, penis, vagina, ovaries, testicles, etc) rather than gender it as male or female. Genitalia and reproductive organs are not inherently male or female. Trans people are born as themselves and society insists on gendering them according to existing gender roles.
There are men with ovaries and vaginas, and women with penises, and non-binary people who could have either. Are they born that way? Yes. Are most of them assigned another gender at birth? Yes. As I mentioned in the previous question, trans people are those that identify differently from what they were assigned at birth. Some trans people choose to undergo extensive Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) as well, to change their sex characteristics to male or female. Either way, this is a private matter (and it varies for each trans person) and it is up to them whether they want to disclose this. Here’s Laverne Cox explaining why it’s important to not focus on trans people’s genitals:
Q3: Why don’t trans people acknowledge that they have a mental disorder (gender dysphoria). It appears that every time I bring it up they change the subject.
Gender dysphoria is “the distress or discomfort that occurs when the gender someone is assigned does not align with their actual gender”. Calling it a mental disorder is quite problematic because it stems from invalidating lived trans experiences. Even cis people (who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) can experience dysphoria if people refused to acknowledge and accept their gender.
An important question you should ask yourself is why this matters to you. Why do you keep bringing this up in conversation? This is as voyeuristic as asking a trans person what’s in their pants. It’s a personal journey and perhaps the way you bring it up makes it clear that they are not comfortable discussing it with you.
Another thing to note is that not every trans person experiences dysphoria. Not every trans person is uncomfortable with the body they were born in, or the implications of their sex characteristics according to society. This is an experience that can’t, and shouldn’t, be generalized. The current process for legally identifying as transgender in India is quite problematic and lists dysphoria as a requirement to qualify. But trans people shouldn’t have to prove that they are trans enough. This reduces the trans experience to one aspect that not necessarily all trans people relate to. Here are some wonderful (and accessible) resources on myths about gender dysphoria and why it’s problematic to assume that every trans person experiences dysphoria.
Phew! So that’s your trans FAQ for this week. I’ll be back next week answering more questions about the desi trans experience. Here’s a reminder that the Transgender Day of Visibility is on the 31st of March. It’s an annual celebration of trans people and a way to raise awareness around the discrimination and violence trans people face around the world.
How can you help?
Talk about the wonderful trans people you know, with their consent. (Remember to not out anyone without their permission!) You can also ask them how you can be a better ally. If you don’t know any trans people in real life, learn more about the trans movement. Start educating yourself about the state of trans rights in India, the issues trans people face, and the stigma around being trans. It’s also helpful to start conversations with people around you on trans issues. Mostly, this day is about celebrating the wonderful existence of trans people, and you can be a good ally by doing just that, in your own way.